February 21, 2019

A Tale of Two Speeches

(L) Reuters / (R) AFP / Scanpix
(L) U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks during the Inaugural John McCain Award Ceremony at the annual Munich Security Conference in Munich, 15.02.2019. (R) U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks in the main hall at the annual Munich Secuirty Conference, 16.02.2019.
(L) U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks during the Inaugural John McCain Award Ceremony at the annual Munich Security Conference in Munich, 15.02.2019. (R) U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks in the main hall at the annual Munich Secuirty Conference, 16.02.2019.

Since the Munich Security Conference, the headlines have been full of doom and gloom and an open rift between the US and Europe.

A lot has been said and written about the silence that met Vice President Mike Pence when he delivered President Donald Trump’s greetings to the conference. There is just one problem with that—there was applause after he delivered the greetings from his boss at the beginning of his official statement in the big conference hall. Listen to the video at the 3:30 mark:  www.securityconference.de/en/media-library/munich-… .

So what speeches are the TV stations showing again and again? It turns out there were in fact two speeches by VP Pence in Munich: the one where he delivered his official statement, which you can also read on the White House website (www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-vi…). In this version, he mentions the name Trump 30 times, which was a bit like listening to Alexei Kosygin talking about Leonid Brezhnev.

And then there was another speech, at the John McCain Award Ceremony, in another venue. This was a wonderful speech, and even elicited a laugh or two. And this was the speech where the greetings from his boss were received with silence. Listen to it yourself at the 13:50 mark (www.securityconference.de/en/media-library/munich-…). Knowing the history between Trump and McCain, it really was tone-deaf to bring greetings from the former to an award ceremony dedicated to the latter. But after a bit of googling it becomes clear that this is a standard formula with which the VP starts his speeches. That does not make it any less tone-deaf, but it does give it some context.

Why does this matter? It seems that transatlantic relations have reached the point where we masochistically only listen to the bits reinforcing our already deeply felt ideas and prejudices. We have convinced ourselves that we are witnessing a deep crisis in US-European relations—that we are drifting apart. But the Congressional delegation at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel has never been bigger. Pence was there, Pelosi was there, Shanahan was there, plus Ivanka and Jared. If we are drifting apart, why were they in Munich, Germany and not Savannah, Georgia? One would imagine that the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives were there partly in order to compensate for what the President of the United States has said and done.

So what should we conclude? US-European relations are never as good as the optimists hope and never as bad as the pessimists dread. Despite Pence’s snipes at the need for Europe to do more (as most ardent Europhiles also say) and Merkel’s snipes at American protectionism over cars, America and Europe are not drifting apart. It’s just that President Donald Trump is drifting away. People come and people go.